New Nutrient Labeling Framework has Implications for Food Barley in Japan

By: Tommy Hamamoto, U.S. Grains Council Director in Japan

Beginning April 1, 2015, the Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) in Japan will be launching a new food labeling framework for foods with health functions. This new framework will allow for foods containing a functional nutrient to be advertised as such on their labels. Beta-glucan, which is contained in some U.S. barley varieties, is a nutrient that falls into this category as a substance lowering blood sugar level, also known as glycemic index.

The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) has been actively promoting the heart-healthy qualities of foods containing U.S. barley to Japanese consumers on the basis of U.S. research showing that these foods may lower cholesterol. Since Japanese consumers are amongst the world’s most health conscious, they have been an attentive audience, which has led to a steadily increasing consumption of barley-based products amongst the country’s aging population. The additional claim that it may lower blood sugar levels may further help Japan’s market for food barley, which is mostly focused on tea, liquor and cereal, experience new opportunities for growth.

However, to label the food product, companies need to submit scientific proof of the nutrient claim to the CAA. Japanese companies that use beta-glucan are in the process of gathering the paperwork necessary to meet this requirement. Upon approval of this claim, most products on the market that contain beta-glucan are expected to be labeled as a substance that may lower blood sugar levels.

The Council also expects the ability to label beta-glucan products as heart healthy will trigger the introduction of new beta-glucan barley foods into the Japanese market.  

Moving forward, the Council will continue working with industry partners like Zanbakuren and the Japan Food Barley Promotion Council to promote the health benefits of U.S. barley to Japanese consumers. The Council will also work to expand its interaction with Japanese food snack companies and related industry associations to educate them about the health properties of beta-gluten rich barley.